Archive for the Disease! Category

WORLD WAR Z (2013)

Posted in 2013, Apocalyptic Films, Based on a bestselling book, Cinema Knife Fights, Disease!, Horror, Medical Experiments!, The Future, Thrillers, Zombie Movies, Zombies with tags , , , , , , on June 24, 2013 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: WORLD WAR Z (2013)
By L.L. Soares and Michael Arruda

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(THE SCENE: An airplane on a transatlantic flight. L.L. SOARES and MICHAEL ARRUDA are in their seats. A FLIGHT ATTENDANT approaches them)

FLIGHT ATTENDANT: Would you gentlemen like something to drink?

LS: A flagon of ale would do nicely.

MA: A “flagon of ale?” What is this, the Middle Ages? You’ve been watching too much GAME OF THRONES.

LS: Don’t worry about it. Just tell her what you want.

MA: Hmm.  I’ve never had a “flagon” of anything.  Make that two, please.

(FLIGHT ATTENDANT walks away)

LS: Welcome, everyone, to a new installment of Cinema Knife Fight. This time, we’re reviewing the new Brad Pitt movie, WORLD WAR Z. It’s based on the bestselling novel by Max Brooks and is yet another movie about a zombie apocalypse.

MA:  I detect an edge in your voice.  Tired of zombie apocalypses?

LS: Hell, yeah. Aren’t you?

MA:  Not really.  I’ve been enjoying the recent explosion of zombiemania.

LS:  Well, I haven’t, and when I first heard about this one, I immediately thought, not more end-of-the-world-with-zombies nonsense. There was a time when I used to say that George Romero’s first three “Dead” films were my favorite movie trilogy, but there have been so many zombie movies in the last decade—and most of them have been pretty bad—that I’m just tired . I’m really getting sick of this subgenre.

MA: I’m not as sick of it as you are.

LS: Good for you.

In WORLD WAR Z, Pitt plays Gerry Lane, a former United Nations envoy, who spent time in several war-torn regions before retiring to spend more time with his family, which includes his wife Karin (Mereille Enos, best known as Sarah Linden on the AMC series THE KILLING) and their daughters Constance (Sterling Jerins) and Rachel (Abigail Hargrove). As the movie begins, they wake up to begin a typical day, but something goes wrong when they’re in the family car later that morning, caught in traffic outside of Philadelphia. Something strange is happening.

There is a sudden rash of attacks as seemingly normal people become violently aggressive and begin to bite other people. This is first suspected to be a rabies epidemic, but it’s clearly something even worse. When someone is bit, it takes only 12 seconds for them to start flopping around on the ground, having convulsions, and then turning into an undead zombie. And the disease, whatever it is, is spreading fast.

MA:  I enjoyed this plot point.  I liked the idea of the dead people turning into zombies so quickly.  That being said, I don’t think the movie used this to any great effect. 

LS:  The Lane family finds themselves in the middle of it all, and try to stay alive, eventually getting helicoptered off of the roof of an apartment complex and taken to an aircraft carrier in the middle of the Atlantic. There, Gerry’s former boss, Theirry Umutoni (Fana Mokoena) tries to convince him to help them find out what is happening and why. Gerry is reluctant and doesn’t want to leave his family, but then it’s made clear to him that if he doesn’t help them, he and his family will not be given shelter on the ship.

Gerry goes with a group of Navy Seals and a gifted young doctor to South Korea to follow a lead pointing to a possible “patient zero.” Meanwhile, the zombie population continues to multiply at an alarming rate, threatening to overtake the earth.

Gerry’s travels will take him to Korea, Jerusalem and Cardiff, Wales before he can get any answers and even begin to confront the vile disease that is running rampant.

I have to admit, I wasn’t looking forward to this one. As I said, I’m really sick of zombie movies, and the last one we saw this year, WARM BODIES, wasn’t much of a treat.

MA:  No, that one wasn’t.

(The seat in front of them shakes violently).

MA:  Hey, take it easy up there, will you? 

LS:  What’s his problem?

MA:  No idea.  (Strange grunting is heard)  Maybe he didn’t like his peanuts.  Anyway, you were saying?

LS:  WORLD WAR Z also was getting the reputation of being troubled project, from hiring several writers to polish the script, to going over budget. But I know from experience that this kind of “trouble” does not mean a movie is going to be bad. Both APOCALYPSE NOW (1979) and JOHN CARTER (2012) had bad publicity before they were released, with people complaining about “troubles” during their makings, and both are great flicks.

MA:  Well, APOCALYPSE NOW is, anyway.

LS:  But still, watching this one, it was much better than I was expecting.

MA:  Yeah, I had a lot of fun watching this one.  It actually sold out right after I bought my ticket.  I hadn’t been in a packed sold out theater in a long time.  Of course, the reason it sold out was because unlike the recent blockbuster releases like IRON MAN 3 and MAN OF STEEL, it wasn’t playing on a zillion screens in the multiplex!  It was only one two screens, one in 2D and one in 3D.  I saw it in 2D.  I bet the 3D version didn’t sell out.

Still, a sold-out show is impressive, and the audience was buzzing with lots of energy.

LS:  I actually saw it the first night it came out, which was Thursday for some odd reason. Summer movies have been coming out at odd times this year—THIS IS THE END had a similar early release—and I had just come out of seeing MAN OF STEEL when I realized WORLD WAR Z was playing that night as well, so I bought a ticket. It wasn’t sold-out, mostly because I don’t think a lot of people knew it was opening early, but there were plenty of people there. And I didn’t even know there was a 3D version of this one!

Anyway, back to the review. First off, Brad Pitt is pretty good here. It’s not one of his best roles, like Jackie Cogan in KILLING THEM SOFTLY (2012) or Tyler Durden in FIGHT CLUB (1999)—Gerry Lane is more passive than either of those characters—but he can definitely carry a movie.

MA:  I agree.  Pitt is very good here. 

And he’d better carry this movie because he’s the only character in the film with ample screen time.  But the bottom line is he does carry the movie quite nicely, as he’s enjoyable to watch.  That being said, there are a number of other characters in this film who I also liked and wish that they had been developed more.

LS:  Yeah, you’re right, there are several underdeveloped characters here. But overall, the whole cast is pretty good. I’m starting to like Mareille Enos a lot, for example. She’s excellent in the series THE KILLING, and while the role of Karin Lane was more of your standard “significant other in peril” type of thing, I’m just happy to see her getting more opportunities to be in bigger films. I thought she was an interesting choice for Pitt’s wife, since she seems more “real” than the usual supermodel type.

MA:  Yes, I liked Enos, too.  I liked Daniella Kertesz even better.  She plays the Israeli soldier Segen who accompanies Pitt’s Gerry Lane for most of his adventure, and loses her hand in the process. 

LS: Kertesz is a standout here. Once her character gets in the thick of things with Pitt, she really shines. She might have been my favorite character in the movie. I want to see more of her.

MA: David Morse enjoys a brief bit as an ex-CIA agent who gives Lane some valuable information, and Fana Mokoena does a nice job as Pitt’s former boss Thierry Umutoni. 

I also enjoyed the entire group of scientists at the World Health Organization.  As I said, there were a number of characters that I would have enjoyed seeing developed more, but that’s not where this one goes.  It’s all about Brad Pitt and the zombies.

LS:  And director Marc Forster —whose resume includes everything from MONSTER’S BALL (2001), THE KITE RUNNER (2007) and the James Bond movie QUANTUM OF SOLACE (2008)—does a good job of focusing on key scenes that build a strong sense of suspense.

MA:  I really enjoyed Forster’s work on the James Bond movie QUANTUM OF SOLACE.  It was one of the most efficient and fast-paced Bond movies ever, in a series famous for overlong over the top action scenes.  I thought he did just as good a job here with WORLD WAR Z.

There are some key scenes of suspense, especially early on in the movie.  I especially liked the sequence at the beginning on the crowded streets of Philadelphia when Pitt and his family first encounter the zombie threat.  The scenes near the end of the film at the World Health Organization were also very suspenseful.

LS: There’s also that great scene with Pitt and Kertesz trapped on a plane full of zombies! Don’t forget that one.

MA: But better than the suspense, I thought Forster made this one very cinematic.  Pitt’s character travels all over the world, and there’s great use of these locations, or at least it looks that way. I’m sure there’s a lot of CGI involved, as I don’t think they filmed in South Korea or Israel.  But the point is, the film looks good, and there’s a grand sweeping cinematic feel to it.  Most of the time, heavy CGI use looks fake, but I got the sense in this one that I was actually at these places all across the world.

LS:  But the most important question is, no doubt, what about the zombies?

MA:  I don’t think that’s the most important question.  I mean, I love THE WALKING DEAD, but it’s not just because of the zombies.  It’s because of characters.

LS: I agree. But at the same time, it’s the zombies that first grab people and pull them into the theaters. They want to see the zombies in action.

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(FLIGHT ATTENDANT comes over and hands them two flagons of ale, then goes to the next passenger in front of them)

FLIGHT ATTENDANT: And what would you like to drink, sir.

(PASSENGER STARTS GRUNTING LOUDLY)

FLIGHT ATTENDANT: Oh my God, he bit me! (RUNS down the length of the aisle)

MA: Uh oh, that’s not good.

LS: Excuse me a moment (drinks some ale). What were you saying?

MA: I was saying that it’s bad news when the passengers start biting.

LS: Yes, that certainly is bad.

(Seat in front of them starts shaking violently)

MA (bangs on the back of the seat in front of him):  Hey!  Want to keep it down?  We’re trying to review a movie here!

LS: Rude bastard.

(HIDEOUS ZOMBIE leaps up from seat in front of them and growls at them menacingly.  LS pulls a gun from underneath his seat and shoots the zombie in the head.)

MA:  Nice going, although you really don’t want to be shooting off a gun on a plane.

LS:  Why not?  They explode a grenade on a plane in the movie.

MA: Yeah, that wasn’t one of the more realistic moments in the film.  So what did you think of the zombies in this movie?

LS: Well, it’s a PG-13 movie, so I wasn’t expecting much, but I was pleasantly surprised.

MA:  Really?   I wasn’t.  But continue.

LS:  Some of the zombies are actually kind of cool. The effects, which I am assuming are a mix of makeup and CGI, looking convincing and visually keep your interest. And these zombies are really fast and love to tackle and bite people, which is how they reproduce. At first, I thought they were just contaminated people, but it eventually is made clear that yes, these people are the reanimated dead, and they are incredibly dangerous. It seems though that only people bitten by the zombies are transformed in death. People who die in other ways don’t come back.

They also move in very fast-moving packs. In a scene in Jerusalem, for example, hundreds of angry zombies climb up on top of each other rapidly, like crazed ants, to reach the top of a high stone wall and get over it, to the people inside. These creatures move like a swarm of giant insects, which was just different enough from what we’re used to to make them interesting.

MA:  Yes, I agree about the swarming.  That was different.  But I wasn’t impressed with the zombies here at all, and I actually thought they were the weakest part of the movie.  I like the zombies in THE WALKING DEAD much better, and the zombie kills in that show are much more graphic and squirm-inducing than anything seen in WORLD WAR Z.  To me, if you’re a fan of zombies, you might be disappointed with this one.

LS: I don’t know, when the zombies slow down a bit and are more individuals, they’re kinda scary. I thought the zombies in the World Health Organization complex were pretty cool. The way they look, and their weird movements and sounds. I didn’t think they were bad at all.

Look, it’s PG-13, so they don’t show any gore. For the most part, the zombie killings are pretty bloodless. While I understand the rating is meant to attract a bigger audience (i.e., more money!), I think it was a dumb move. More explicit zombie attacks mean more scares, and more effective zombies. I’m not saying the zombies in WORLD WAR Z are perfect, but they’re better than I expected for wimpified, PG-13 zombies. Hell, if THE WALKING DEAD was a movie instead of a TV show, I bet it would get an R rating for violence. So right off the bat, WORLD WAR Z has a disadvantage. We knew it wasn’t going to be gory or scary enough. That said, the zombies are pretty good here.

WORLD WAR Z is not a home run, but it’s much better than it has any right to be. I give it three knives. And I’m sure, if I was still a zombie fan, I would rate it even higher.

MA:  I disagree.  I think zombie fans might like this one less, because the bar has been set so high recently with THE WALKING DEAD

LS: Look, anyone coming into this movie expecting something as good as THE WALKING DEAD is going to be disappointed. THE WALKING DEAD is like the gold standard for zombie stories right now.

MA: That being said, I liked WORLD WAR Z a lot, and I had a lot of fun watching it, but that’s because it told a convincing story, was helmed by a talented director, and had an enjoyable cast led by Brad Pitt.  But in terms of actual zombies, I just didn’t think they were all that memorable.  They didn’t come close to the zombies in THE WALKING DEAD or any of the Romero movies. They simply weren’t scary enough.  I don’t think I was scared once by a zombie in this movie, and that’s not a good thing.

But there was plenty about this movie I liked, starting with Brad Pitt.  He really is a terrific actor, and it’s rare for me not to enjoy him in a movie.  Here, as United Nations agent Gerry Lane, he comes off as a man devoted to his family, driven by the desire to keep them safe, yet he also easily makes the switch to effective envoy, as he puts his considerable talents to use to do his job and get to the bottom of the zombie pandemic.  Lane’s investigation into finding the origins of the zombie problem, which makes up the bulk of the movie, held my interest throughout.

As we already said, the supporting cast is terrific, as is the direction by Marc Forster, and the screenplay by Matthew Michael Carnahan, Drew Goddard, and Damon Lindelof tells a compelling story from start to finish.  While I wasn’t a fan of the actual zombies in this one, I enjoyed the story a lot.

The guy behind me didn’t share my sentiments, however.   As soon as it ended, he shouted out, “That was stupid!”  I didn’t find it stupid.  I found it an enjoyable way to spend a couple of hours. 

Sure, I would have preferred it to have been scarier, because it’s not scary at all, which is weird when you think about it.  It’s a zombie movie, for crying out loud!  Why isn’t it scary?  But it is suspenseful and engaging. 

LS: Yes, it’s much more suspenseful than scary. But for what it is, it works.

MA: I also give it three knives.

(Things get suddenly very quiet. LS and MA stop talking and look up, to see they are surrounded by hungry zombies clacking their teeth)

LS: Uh oh.

MA: Looks like we’re suddenly on the menu.  (to zombies)  Could I interest any of you in flagon of ale? (holds out flagon)

(Zombies grunt and shake their heads).

MA: Now, what?

(LS lifts a baseball bat and hands MA a hammer)

MA:  What are these for?

LS:  To bash in some zombie brains, of course!

MA:  Things are going to get mighty messy. 

(LS & MA attack zombies, as BATMAN-like signs are superimposed on the screen with the words, SPLAT!, THWRPP!, GURGLE! CRUNCH! and RIP!)

—END—

© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares and Michael Arruda

Michael Arruda gives WORLD WAR Z ~ three knives!

LL Soares gives WORLD WAR Z ~three knives, as well!

 

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Transmissions to Earth: THE INCREDIBLE MELTING MAN (1977)

Posted in "So Bad They're Good" Movies, 2013, 70s Horror, B-Movies, Bad Situations, Disease!, Horror, LL Soares Reviews, Low Budget Movies, Monsters, Mutants!, Science Fiction, Trasmissions to Earth, Unfortunate Astronauts with tags , , , , , , , on June 13, 2013 by knifefighter

TRANSMISSIONS TO EARTH Presents:

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THE INCREDIBLE MELTING MAN (1977)
Review by L.L. Soares

Incredible Melting Man (1977)In this business I come upon a lot of bad movies. But what makes them “so bad they’re good” or just plain bad? Sometimes it’s pretty easy to answer that.

But I’m still not sure which one THE INCREDIBLE MELTING MAN (1977)  is.

Sure it has some funny aspects about it. But it’s also pretty much a waste of time, and has a storyline so thin, it could slip between your fingers.

It’s actually amazing that this one was made in 1977. It has the look and feel of a bad 1950s sci-fi film.

As we begin, three astronauts are passing through the rings of Saturn! Pretty cool. This must be in the far future, right? Well, not really, when we get back to Earth, it still looks an awful lot like 1977. Who knew we’d perfect faster-than- light interplanetary space travel so quickly?

As they pass through the rings, something goes wrong. This is when we see stock footage of sunspots close up, in negative. It’s supposed to be the astronauts “seeing the sun through the rings of Saturn,” and they’ll use it a few more times in the movie.  Two of the astronauts die soon after. The third one, Steve West (Alex Rebar) survives, but is horribly disfigured.

We have no clue how he gets back to Earth, but he does, and it’s kept under wraps (how do you keep the return of an astronaut secret, anyway?). Astronaut West is also “under wraps” literally as he’s wrapped up in bandages. When we see him after his return home, he’s bandaged and strapped to a bed in an undisclosed hospital. All of a sudden he just gets up, breaks the straps, and runs away, chasing an overweight nurse through the hallways.

Suddenly, Steve West is on the loose. But he’s not the same guy anymore. Now he’s the INCREDIBLE MELTING MAN, whose skin is constantly oozing off his body. His face looks like a skull covered with dripping wax. Oh, and he’s radioactive! So you don’t want him to touch you. He goes around killing people, and we’re told he needs new cells to survive, but it’s not clear how he gets those cells. Is he eating people or what? One guy has his head torn off and thrown into a waterfall, another person is ripped apart – if Steve is eating people for their cells, then he sure does love to play with his food!. We never actually know what’s he’s doing to his victims, but they end up a bloody mess.

Meanwhile, everywhere he goes, he leaves dripping oozy flesh in his wake. You would think someone like this would be easy to track down, but no way! Doctor Ted Nelson (Burr DeBenning) is ordered to go find Steve and bring him back to the army hospital by General Michael Perry (Myron Healey), but Nelson spends most of the time goofing off. At one point he’s home making a sandwich for his wife. Pretty awful tracking job, Dr. Nelson! He tells his associate Dr. Loring (Lisle Wilson) that his wife has had three miscarriages about this same stage in her pregnancy and she’s nervous something will go wrong again. This is about the time Nelson realizes that Steve West, who he is supposed to recapture for the government, is radioactive, and he’s worried that this might affect his wife (one of the few real dramatic aspects of the script, although it’s soon forgotten). Maybe that’s why he doesn’t seem to try very hard to find West.

Incredible-Melting-Man-LC-2-kleinWhen Dr. Nelson has no luck finding West, General Perry comes to town, demanding results. Meanwhile, the monster who used to be Steve West continues on his rampage until there’s a big showdown in some kind of power plant.

There’s not much of a plot, as you can tell. It basically amounts to 1) man comes back from space as some kind of monster, 2) government guys try to track him down when he goes on a killing spree, and 3) big showdown where the monster is killed.  Pretty-by-the numbers, and not very compelling.

The acting is so-so for the most part, but no one stands out here as a Shakespearean actor! Burr DeBenning (also in A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET: DREAM CHILD, 1989, and lots of TV shows like MATLOCK and FALCOLN CREST), as Dr. Ted Nelson, seems to love standing around, wasting time, and I’m not sure if he’s supposed to be funny, but he is. He comes off as completely incompetent. Myron Healey is convincing as General Perry, in a “TV general” kind of way. Healey had a long career as a cowboy or a military man in the movies and on TV, and was actually in tons of westerns in the 1950s and 60s, as well as such other horror/sci-fi classics as VARAN THE UNBELIEVABLE (1962) and THE UNEARTHLY (1957) , and the TV-movie V (1983), and was also Colonel Wright in one of the best episodes of KOLCHAK: THE NIGHT STALKER, “Mr. R.I.N.G.” (from 1975). Local Sheriff Neil Blake (Michael Alldredge, who was also in THE ENTITY, 1982, and V, 1983) is okay as the frustrated cop who wants answers – that the government just isn’t giving him. Ann Sweeny is likable enough as Ted Nelson’s wife, Judy, and Alex Rebar is serviceable as Steve West/the Melting Man, since all he has to do is put on crazy makeup and run around causing trouble.

There’s also a great (but short) scene where a photographer tries to coerce a model to take off her top on the beach, until the monster shows up. The model is played by genre legend Cheryl “Rainbeaux” Smith. Future movie director Jonathan Demme also has a cameo as a character named Matt Winters, another one of the monster’s victims.

Probably the biggest star in this one is the makeup artist, the legendary Rick Baker, in one of his earlier jobs. The Melting Man is not one of his best creations, but it certainly looks too good for this movie! It’s amazing what Baker would do with a bigger budget and real equipment (see AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON, just four years later in 1981).

Rick Baker's makeup effects for the monster might be the ONLY reason to see THE INCREDIBLE MELTING MAN!

Rick Baker’s makeup effects for the monster might be the ONLY reason to see THE INCREDIBLE MELTING MAN!

Star Alex Rebar (the Melting Man) had roles on TV shows like THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS and MURDER, SHE WROTE. He was also one of the (9!) writers of the Italian exorcism classic, BEYOND THE DOOR (1974), and his first acting job was in a movie called MICROSCOPIC LIQUID SUBWAY TO OBLIVION (1970), which I would love to see, just for the title alone.

Director William Sachs also gave us GALAXINA (1980)  and SPOOKY HOUSE (2002).

Not bad enough to be good, and not good at all, THE INCREDIBLE MELTING MAN is for fans of bad cinema only- who don’t mind wasting 90 minutes of their lives – or Rick Baker completists.

© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares

Cinema Knife Fight/New Filmmakers Edition: CELL COUNT (2012)

Posted in 2013, Body Horror, Cinema Knife Fights, Conspiracy Theories, Disease!, Indie Horror, Mad Doctors!, Mutants!, New Filmmmakers, Science Fiction with tags , , , , , , on March 25, 2013 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT.NEW FILMMAKERS EDITION
CELL COUNT (2012) Directed by TODD E. FREEMAN
Review by Michael Arruda & L.L. Soares

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(THE SCENE: A lab, almost prison-like, with plain gray walls, and security doors and cameras all around.  Several “patients” sit around a table.  The security door buzzes open and MICHAEL ARRUDA & L.L. SOARES enter wearing lab coats.)

L.L. SOARES:  Welcome everyone to a special edition of CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT.  Today we bring you the latest installment in our “Up-and-Coming Filmmaker” series, where we review movies by new directors who are trying to make a name for themselves.

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  So today we are reviewing CELL COUNT (2012) by writer/director Todd E. Freeman.

But let me say first, that our good friend, best-selling author Rick Hautala passed away unexpectedly on Thursday, and both out of respect for Rick and his family, and out of genuine grief, I’m not much in the mood for joking today.  I almost prefer a straight review.

LS: I agree that it was sad news, but knowing Rick, I don’t think he’d want us to tone down the column on his account.

MA:  True.  For me, it’s more that I’m not in a joking mood this weekend, but I don’t see why we couldn’t throw in a few jokes here and there, I guess.

Anyway, let’s get things started.  CELL COUNT  is—.

PATIENT #1:  Excuse me?  What are we doing here exactly?

LS:  You’re our audience.

PATIENT #1:  We didn’t sign up for this.  We’re supposed to be—.

(LS suddenly Tasers the guy, who falls to the floor, writhing in pain.)

LS:  You’re also the comic relief.  Anyone else have any questions?

(Other patients shake their heads.)

LS:  Good. Let’s continue.

MA:  So much for toning things down.

As I was saying, CELL COUNT is a science fiction horror movie about a group of people subjected to one very weird and unsettling medical experiment.

The film opens with Russell Carpenter (Robert McKeehen) comforting his dying wife Sadie (Haley Talbot) in a hospital.  It’s clear that these two are very much in love. Russell is informed by Dr. Victor Brandt (Christopher Toyne) that his wife is going to die in no uncertain terms, unless…and then he makes Russell an offer.  He tells Russell that he’s involved with a special study that is seeking test subjects like his wife in order to treat this deadly disease.  He tells Russell that he can guarantee his wife will be cured. But Russell will have to be part of the experiment as well if he wants to come with her.

I guess Russell never heard “if it sounds too good to be true, it really isn’t” because he agrees…

LS: Of course he agrees! He doesn’t want to lose his wife.

MA: … and he and Sadie find themselves inside a weird prison-like facility with other “patients.”  All of them have small incisions in their chests, where Dr. Brandt supposedly implanted the powerful viral cure into their bodies.  In addition to these patients, there are also two “special” patients housed in a secure part of the building—two convicted criminals who are highly dangerous.

Cell-Count-2012-Todd-Freeman-movie-3When the group begins to suffer from weird side effects, they begin to suspect that something is wrong, and they discover that Dr. Brandt’s vision of a cure isn’t quite what they expected.  They’ve been implanted with a strange worm-like creature that burrows out of their mouths at will, and does some other things as well, like one wrapping itself around its victim’s face, forming a mask that resembles an alien in a bad science fiction movie.

LS: I actually thought the “mask face” thing looked pretty cool.

MA: I liked the idea of the “mask face” but I didn’t think it looked good.  It looked like Dumb Donald from FAT ALBERT.

So, it’s up to Russell and Sadie to lead their fellow patients out of Dr. Brandt’s high security lab, while trying to defeat the monstrous “cure” that they now have inside their bodies, a cure put there so it can literally eat the disease. The trouble is it devours other things as well.

(Patient #1 keels over onto the floor, and a large worm-like creature oozes out of his mouth.  LS Tasers the worm creature and then stabs it with a giant fork.  He carries it across the lab and deposits it into a huge pot.)

LS:  Gotta let this simmer.

PATIENT:  I’m cured!  I’m cured!  Thank you for curing me!

LS:  Keep your shirt on.  You’re not cured yet.

PATIENT: I’m not?

LS:  Not until after you’ve had my soup.

MA:  If you survive his soup, (Points to large pot on stove.) you’re cured.

PATIENT:  Couldn’t I just take a pill instead?

LS:  And skip my all-natural worm soup du jour?  No way, buddy.  Soup for everyone!

(There is a collective groan.)

MA: I hear it tastes like chicken.

Anyway, CELL COUNT succeeded in drawing me in initially.  I liked the opening scene where Russell comforts his wife, and then listens as Dr. Brandt entices him with his offer to cure her.  Anyone who’s had to deal with very sick loved ones can attest to the temptation of doing whatever it takes to cure that person, no matter how unconventional the method may seem.  So I bought this set-up.

LS: Yeah, I got hooked early on, too. While I don’t think they ever actually say it’s cancer during the course of the movie (they just say “the disease”), it seems pretty obvious that’s what is going on here. And it would make sense that people would do just about anything to avoid the inevitable.

MA: I liked the acting performances, even if they weren’t as polished as you might find in a mainstream movie.  I enjoyed Robert McKeehen in the lead role as Russell Carpenter.  He made for a believable hero, and I bought that he’d go the extreme route to save his wife.  Admittedly, there were a few scenes where his performance was uneven—the scene where he first sees the worm thingie climb out of someone’s throat, for instance, his over the top reaction made me laugh out loud.  I don’t think that was the reaction he was looking for.

LS: Yeah, I agree there are a few missteps, but overall, McKeehan is really good here. He looked like an elongated, big-eyed Christoph Waltz to me at times.

MA: I also enjoyed Haley Talbot as his wife Sadie.

LS: Sadie was my favorite character. Once she gets “better” and has a major role in what’s going on, I found her strong and very likable. Despite “the disease,” I think she’s the strongest one in the movie. Kudos to Haley Talbot.

MA: I agree.  Christopher Toyne made for an effectively mysterious Dr. Victor Brandt, although at times, especially towards the end of the movie, he tends to overact.

LS: I actually thought was a little over-the-top from the first time we meet him. He’s effective here, but he does tend to ham it up. Which isn’t completely bad. He’s entertaining at least. He’s just not as believable as some of the other characters, and you distrust his motives right away.

MA: The supporting cast is actually very good.  Adrienne Vogel and John Breen stand out as fellow patients Mary Porter and Billy Mayor, and Ted Rooney’s performance as Abraham Walker, one of the “violent inmates,” who it turns out isn’t such a bad guy after all, is especially memorable.

LS: I liked Rooney a lot. Don’t forget Judd Eustice as  Timothy“Tiny Tim” Jacobs, He’s the other dangerous criminal who “agreed” to be part of the experiment, and he’s pretty creepy. He’s the closest thing the movie has to a human villain, except for maybe Dr. Brandt.

MA: Even one of the Baldwin brothers shows up, Daniel Baldwin, in what amounts to nothing more than a cameo, so I guess someone needed a paycheck!

LS: Yeah, what was up with that? I know he was hired to give the movie a little bit of star power, but his role actually made me laugh. He comes onscreen like he’s some heroic figure, but he’s actually kind of a dud.

MA: Again, the set-up to the story works.  I believed that these people would subject themselves to this kind of test treatment if they believed they would be cured.  The middle part of the movie, where you really weren’t certain as to what was going on, and who to trust or who to believe, reminded me a little bit of some those early episodes from the TV show LOST, where you weren’t sure what Benjamin Linus and his family of “Others” were up to.

LS: This movie looks great. But I had trouble understanding some of the motivations here. And the way the “facility” was set up—I know this abandoned prison must have seemed like an amazing location to set a film, and it is—but there were more than a few things that didn’t make sense to me.

For example, in one part, Billy takes Russell through the facility. You have to press your hand against a pad so that it can identify you and give you access to certain areas. They go to this locker room where Billy’s dog, The Kid, is. We hear Dr. Brandt tell them that they shouldn’t really be interacting with the animals that are part of the experiment, but then he pretty much says it doesn’t matter. Later, in another scene, Mary Porter brings the dog back to where the people are, and Dr. Brandt comes to visit. He doesn’t have any problem with them having the dog there. Then why make an issue of it initially?

MA:  Yeah, that didn’t make any sense to me either.

LS:  Also, characters are able to get into the section of the facility where the dangerous criminals are located. When they get to that area, a recorded voice tells them that this is a dangerous area, and they should turn back. Why not just have the door there coded so that it denies access? That didn’t make any sense to me.

MA:  Right.  I kept thinking there was a reason Dr. Brandt wanted his test subjects to interact with the dangerous criminals, but we’re never given that reason.  And then later the recorded voice does announce that it’s time to intermingle, and the dangerous prisoners are released, but for what reason is never explained.

LS:  There’s another scene where they “coax” one of the worm monsters out of someone, and instead of trying to pull it out when it makes an appearance, they simply take this as a sign that the person in question is beyond help. Why not just try to get it to come out again and grab it?

MA: And, when it gets to pay-off time, the film falters.  First off, visually, the special effects weren’t all that special.  I’ve seen worse, but the effects here weren’t good enough for me to buy into them.  And several key moments, which could have made for some very dark grisly scenes, were glossed over, as the camera would cut away at the last minute.  I expected that this was going to turn into a gruesome—or at the very least, intense—horror movie, but it never reaches that level.

LS: Well, this is a low-budget movie (although, once again, it looks great). So it makes sense that in certain scenes, the camera cuts away. They probably couldn’t afford to show everything they wanted to.

I didn’t think the effects were bad. For the most part, they worked for me. I really liked how Tiny Tim’s insides come out of his mouth and then cover his head for that “bag head” effect. That was pretty cool. The worm thingies weren’t perfect, but they looked good, too.

MA: At times, it seems to be striving for that WALKING DEAD feel—a story about a group of survivors against a deadly threat—and while the characters in this movie are somewhat interesting—enough so that in a better movie I’d follow their plight—the situations they find themselves in here never become so riveting that I was really into it.

For the most part, I liked the story, as written by writer/director Todd E. Freeman, but I certainly could have used more information.  I never really had a firm grasp on what the cure was or even what the disease was.  I understood the reactions of the victims, but I didn’t understand the motives of the guy causing all the trouble, Dr. Brandt, other than a generalized notion that he was seeking a “cure.”  While the patients seemed real, Dr. Brandt played like a mad scientist in a bad science fiction movie.

LS: I wasn’t always clear why people did the things they did. Motivations seemed cloudy to me. It was almost like they did things to further the story, but they weren’t necessarily things that made sense.

I just thought that the script, also by director Todd Freeman, was the weakest aspect of the movie.

And yeah, Dr. Brandt does seem like your typical mad doctor. It would have been nice if he had more depth to him. Early on, he says that he was the first patient to be experimented on, when they first created the cure. That was a step into humanizing him more, but the script really doesn’t flesh him out much more than that.

MA: Behind the camera, director Freeman does an adequate job, but his effort needed to be stronger.  There are some cool scenes here, but at the end of the day, it’s simply not enough.  The film needed more of an edge.  Perhaps it was budget restrictions that caused those unfortunate cutaways and mediocre special effects.  If this was the case, then more creative direction should have been in order.  I just wasn’t feeling it at the end.

LS: I wasn’t completely sold on the ending, either. I wasn’t clear on why some of the characters did what they did.

MA: But I’ve seen much worse, and for the 90 minutes I spent watching CELL COUNT, I was entertained.

I give it two knives.

LS: I thought there were a lot of strong aspects about this movie. I liked Freeeman’s direction for the most part, the actors were mostly good, the effects decent (considering the budget constraints), and I just thought the movie looked slick and professional (the cinematography is by “The Brothers Freeman,” i.e., Todd and Jason Freeman). But the script was uneven. I give it two knives as well.

But I do see a lot of potential here, and I’d be interested in seeing what Freeman does next.

MA: Well, we’re done here. I guess it’s time we headed out.

(DR. BRANDT suddenly bursts into the room)

DR. BRANDT: No, you cannot leave. It is too dangerous. The “cure” has infected you.

LS: What are you talking about? We didn’t have any surgery to have the cure implanted in us.

DR. BRANDT: But you did eat the meatloaf in the cafeteria!

MA: Oh no. I thought that tasted funny.

DR. BRANDT: Yes, you must stay here in Quarantine now, until I am ready to extract the cure.

LS: Screw that (Tasers Dr. Brandt, who writhes on the floor)

MA: Nice job.

LS (to other patients): Let’s blow this joint. I hear Daniel Baldwin has a bus ready for our escape. If he can start it up!

-END-

© Copyright 2013 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

Michael Arruda gives CELL COUNT ~ two knives!

LL Soares gives CELL COUNT ~two knives.

For Rats’ Eyes Only: THE RATS (2002)

Posted in 2012, Animals Attack, Disease!, For Rats' Eyes Only, LL Soares Reviews, Rats, TV-Movies with tags , , , , on January 24, 2013 by knifefighter

FOR RATS’ EYES ONLY: Reviews of Movies About Rats


Presents:

THE RATS (2002)

Review by L.L. Soares

TheRats_2002_PosterJust when you thought it was safe to sit on the toilet! Up come the rats from the sewer!

That’s the thing about these pesky rodents. Once they start popping up, they seem to be everywhere, as Madchen Amick finds out in THE RATS (2002), which plays on the fears people who live in big cities have about rat infestations. It all begins simply enough in a Manhattan department store called Garsons, where a customer in a dressing room is bitten by something under a pile of clothes. The store manager, Susan Costello (Madchen Amick, probably best known as Shelly Johnson on TWIN PEAKS from 1990 -1991, although she’s been in a ton of television shows and movies since), tells the girl that she must have cut her finger on a floor tack, but she should have it checked out. Not long afterwards, Susan gets a call from the hospital, and when she goes to visit the woman, she finds out that it’s clear that it’s a bite and the woman is dying from a disease that is spread by rats.

Susan’s boss, Ms. Page (Sheila Mccarthy), is in a panic when she thinks about how such publicity could affect their department store. She tells Susan to fire the store’s exterminators and hire the best in the city, and in comes Jack Carver (Vincent Spano), a handsome rat specialist who knows how to play the game with the Health Department (he’s friends with the guy in charge) and is well-versed in keeping things discreet. Except, the rat problem turns out to be much bigger than anyone expected.

Meanwhile, Susan and her daughter Amy (Daveigh Chase) see a rat outside their apartment window, and soon afterwards, the local swimming pool where Amy goes to swim has a rat attack (they come out of the air vents), revealing that the problem extends to several city blocks.

Beware, THE RATS are coming!

Beware, THE RATS are coming!

As Susan and Jack find themselves getting increasingly attracted to each other, they also team up to investigate how bad the infestation is. This involves such interesting scenes as Jack and his partner Ty (Shawn Michael Howard) using ultra-violet light to uncover where rat droppings are throughout the store after hours, when the lights are out. As they discover false walls and secret passageways that were long covered up, the three of them eventually end up in the basement, which is a breeding ground for the vicious vermin, who have started attacking people (just ask the superintendent of Susan’s apartment building, who gets gobbled up by the rats). And there’s also the use of a cool bomb-defusing robot that is used to explore the subterranean lair of the rats, and uses it camera eyes to send back visuals to the people above.

We learn lots of interesting things, like rats are constantly chewing hard things to keep their teeth from growing too big for their mouths (their “chew toys” include metal and concrete) and that they’re constantly incontinent (thus the droppings everywhere). By the time Jack, Ty and Susan have tracked the rats’ origins down to a deserted lab that was doing medical experiments on them (that made them stronger and more aggressive), it looks like the entire city might be in danger.

If rats make you squeamish, you might not like the scene where a rat tries to push its way up out of a toilet while Amy gets ready for her bath. Or thousands of rats plummeting onto a subway train, bringing it to a stop and pouring inside the open windows. Or the big finale that involves a huge, drained swimming pool full of what looks like millions of rodents.

Machen Amick takes a swim in a pool full of rats in THE RATS.

Machen Amick takes a swim in a pool full of rats in THE RATS.

THE RATS was originally a TV-movie, but there’s some nudity early on that was obviously added for the European market, which isn’t as uptight as America is. The acting is decent for this kind of throwaway movie, and the rats look scary enough (it’s a mix of real rats and CGI effects, with enough real ones to make it convincing). The script is simple enough— rats are discovered and exterminator tracks them down, with a love story added— but it works. Director John Lafia keeps things suspenseful, and there are some good moments toward the end when you might feel a shiver or two as the rats pile up.

Not a great rat movie, or a great movie in general, but above-average for what started as a TV-movie. I liked it for what it was, and I’ve always liked Madchen Amick, so it was good to see her in a lead role here.

I give it two and a half out of five rats.

© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares

THE BAY (2012)

Posted in 2012, Conspiracy Theories, Disease!, Faux Documentaries, Found Footage Movies, Gore!, Horror, LL Soares Reviews, Parasites! with tags , , , , , , on November 15, 2012 by knifefighter

THE BAY (2012)
Movie Review by L.L. Soares

This one sounded interesting to me. A “found footage” horror movie by Barry Levinson, the director who gave us such memorable films through the years as DINER (1982), THE NATURAL (1984), RAIN MAN (1988), BUGSY (1991), SLEEPERS (1996) , WAG THE DOG (1997) and lots more. That’s one hell of a resume.

And I’ve actually enjoyed most of the “found footage” movies that have been coming out lately, even though the genre gets a bad rap. I was definitely interested in seeing what Levinson would do with the concept.

THE BAY (2012) got a limited release in a few cities across the country, and is also currently on cable OnDemand. Watching this movie, I found myself wondering why it didn’t get a wider release.

The “bay” in question here is Chesapeake Bay, which I read is “the largest estuary in the United States” surrounded by Maryland and Virginia. The movie THE BAY takes place mostly in a small town called Claridge, Maryland. It relies mostly on tourism for its income. But there are also lots of chicken farms in the area, made possible thanks to a big desalination plant that makes enough water available to support the industry. But there’s the problem of animal waste and rumors that there might have been a nuclear waste leak years back, or so the movie tells us. And that chicken waste has a lot of chemicals in it like steroids and other stuff to increase the birds’ growth and meat production.

It’s the Fourth of July, and there’s a big celebration in Claridge, including a crab-eating contest and sailing and fireworks. But this year, something goes wrong. People start getting sick. They starts to erupt with boils and throw up blood, and develop wounds that look as if their flesh is being eaten away from the inside. People start to panic, and bodies start piling up in the streets.

What is causing this pandemic? We have clues as to the conditions that bred such a disease, but the actual culprit might surprise you.

Meanwhile, the movie is made up of footage that was being suppressed. A chunk of it is from the point of view of Donna Thompson (Kether Donohue), a young news reporter who got her “big break” that Fourth of July, when she thought she was just covering another small town holiday, but instead stumbled on something horrible. She just wants to get this footage out to the world before it happens again.

Not all of the footage is of Donna and what she witnesses, however. There’s also video of two researchers who were testing the bay’s toxicity;  a family (wife, husband and baby) who film themselves taking their boat to Claridge to meet the wife’s parents; and footage of Dr. Jack Abrams (Stephen Kunken), who first sees an emergency room waiting area with about 30 people who are infected with strange symptoms. Then he sees that number rise to 60 people, and more and more. His frantic Skypes to the Center for Disease Control don’t seem to be taken seriously at first, and by the time the authorities start to worry, it’s clear they want to cover this up and avoid a mass panic. We also see a few Claridge police officers making their rounds in COPS-like footage, and we see a girl on Facebook making videos, unable to get help, and afraid she might die alone. As the movie progresses, the symptoms of the people infected get more gory and disturbing.

Somehow, all this various footage meshes well together, and tells a compelling story about a horrible flesh-eating disease, and puts a human face on that disease.

Levinson does a fine job with the material. No matter how much I want to get sick of the found footage genre, movies like this pop up that keep it viable. I was pretty riveted throughout, wondering what was behind all this, and if it could be stopped in time. Levinson does a great job here building suspense. And the performances help him to sell the story. The acting here is all very good and the people are believable.

Keather Donohue plays reporter Donna Thompson, who is trying to get word out about what seems to be a killer disease in THE BAY.

There has been some hype about the fact that Oren Peli is one of the producers. He’s the guy who gave us the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY franchise and the short-lived ABC series THE RIVER. And sure, Peli is the king of this kind of stuff. But THE BAY stands or falls on the work of a director named Barry Levinson, and while it might seem that he’s working with material that is beneath him, he pulls it off really well.

I enjoyed this movie, and it kept me glued to the screen throughout. I give it three knives.

© Copyright 2012 by L.L. Soares

LL Soares gives THE BAY ~three  knives.

Quick Cuts: Favorite Movies by DAVID CRONENBERG

Posted in 2012, 70s Horror, 80s Horror, Body Horror, Classic Films, Cult Movies, David Cronenberg, Disease!, Disturbing Cinema, ESP, Evil Kids!, Hit Men, Indie Horror, Parasites!, Telekinesis with tags , , , , , , , , on August 24, 2012 by knifefighter

QUICK CUTS Presents: THE MOVIES OF DAVID CRONENBERG
Featuring: Michael Arruda, L.L. Soares, Nick Cato, Paul McMahon, Mark Onspaugh, and Jenny Orosel

Director David Cronenberg has been giving us nightmares for over 40 years.

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  With the release of David Cronenberg’s latest movie, COSMOPOLIS (2012), we’ve decided to take a look at our favorite Cronenberg movies.

*****

L.L. SOARES: David Cronenberg is such an iconic director, and has made so many great films to choose from. But, without a doubt, my all-time favorite Cronenberg film is CRASH (1990), which happens to be based on one of my all-time favorite novels (of the same name) by J.G. Ballard. With an amazing cast that includes James Spader, Holly Hunter, Deborah Kara Unger, Rosanna Arquette, and Elias Koteas as charismatic anti-hero Vaughan, it’s the story of a man (Spader as “Jim Ballard”) who experiences a traumatic car accident and then discovers a strange cult-like group of people that fetishizes (and just about worships) car crashes. Cronenberg captures the cold, antiseptic feel of Ballard’s very bleak novel, and the movie was pretty controversial (like a lot of Cronenberg films) when it first came out.

(Not to be confused with the Paul Haggis film “Crash:” from 2001)

Cronenberg has made so many great movies. But my other favorites include:

DEAD RINGERS (1988) —With Jeremy Irons in one of his best performances ever as twin gynecologists who share a relationship with one woman (Genevieve Bujold), who can’t tell them apart. Then things start to get violent.

VIDEODROME (1983)—With James Woods as a man who finds a very disturbing cable TV channel that changes his life in scary ways. Including the famous scene where Woods has a VCR slot in his stomach. Also starring Blondie lead singer Deborah Harry.

THE BROOD (1979) —the first Cronenberg film I ever saw, and still a favorite, with little monster kids created from the rage of Samantha Eggar. With Oliver Reed.

NAKED LUNCH (1991) —The underground classic novel by William S. Burroughs was considered unfilmable, but that didn’t stop Cronenberg from bringing it to the big screen. He makes it coherent by mixing a lot of Burroughs’ wild imagery with biographical incidents from the writer’s life.

*****

JENNY OROSEL: I have a soft spot in my heart for CRASH (1990), seeing as I got my driver’s license in a CRASH t-shirt (I got my license late—I’m not that young). The humor was lost on my tester.

NAKED LUNCH (1991) blew me away because I had no idea how anyone could turn that book into a movie, and I think he pulled it off the only way possible.

*****

 

NICK CATOSHIVERS (a.k.a. THEY CAME FROM WITHIN) (1975) is my personal favorite Cronenberg film. It’s a genuinely scary tale of a parasite that turns the residents of a luxury condo into possessed sexual predators. It’s not his best technical achievement, but it gets the goosebumps going better than most standard horror films.

While I’d like to list VIDEODROME as my second favorite, that honor goes to CRASH (1996). Only Cronenberg can take such a bizarre subject (people turned on by car crashes) and make it a film that holds up amazingly well to repeat viewings. It’s unlike any film before or since.

*****

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  Without doubt, my favorite David Cronenberg movie is THE FLY (1986), which is one of my favorite horror movies from the 1980s, one of my favorites of all time, and certainly one of my favorite remakes.  I love the performances by Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis, the gruesome special effects, and how this film captured how it would really be to have your DNA mixed with the DNA of a fly, a concoction that would occur at the molecular level.  Cronenberg is masterful at the helm here.

Be afraid.  Be very afraid.

I’m also a fan of VIDEODROME (1983) and THE DEAD ZONE (1983).

*****

 PAUL MCMAHON:  It feels traitorous to choose only a single Cronenberg film as my favorite, so I’ll pick two.

First, A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE (2005). Its brilliance starts with the emotionless opening sequence of random cruelty that mirrors our fears. The film moves you through the realization of a specific act of violence and explores the way that one event changes the people involved. Violence shoves its way into your life and grows roots. No matter how you try to hide from the memory of such a traumatic event, it never goes away and never lets you forget. Cronenberg’s movie dramatizes this brilliantly, and is very uncomfortable to watch.

Second, and I’m just realizing this is another brilliant representation of trauma —THE BROOD (1979). This time the violence comes from divorce and the ensuing custody battle over a young daughter. THE BROOD features a progressive psychotherapist who has developed a way to make his patients’ internal and invisible pain manifest physically, where it can be seen and acknowledged. Cronenberg himself was struggling through just such a divorce while he directed this movie, and his pain bleeds through the screen. Like the patients of Dr. Raglan, David Cronenberg crafted a physical representation of his inner turmoil. He has said that it’s the one film of his that he cannot bear to watch again.

*****

MARK ONSPAUGHSCANNERS (1981) —So audacious and amazing! I remembered hearing something about this movie and my wife and I were at a theater where they showed a red band trailer. I whispered, “I think this is the movie where people’s heads blow up,” knowing she’d want to look away —she didn’t hear me —man, did she shriek when that happened! For months after it came out, a friend and I kept repeating Michael Ironside’s line, “I’m gonna suck your brain DRY!”

THE FLY (1986) —It was Cronenberg who layered in the romance into Charles Pogue’s script, elevating this movie from mere creature feature to a masterpiece of horrific tragedy. I don’t think Jeff Goldblum or Geena Davis have ever been better.

So many to choose from, including EASTERN PROMISES (2007), HISTORY OF VIOLENCE (2005) and SPIDER (2002). If you want to take what amounts to a class in cinema, watch SPIDER with the director’s commentary – I don’t want to spoil it for those who didn’t see it, but there is a major change in the movie I didn’t even detect, at first – brilliant.

*****

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  And that about sums up David Cronenberg.  Thanks, everyone!

L.L. SOARES:  And thank you, readers, for joining us today!

—-END—

© Copyright 2012 by Michael Arruda, L.L. Soares, Nick Cato, Paul McMahon, Mark Onspaugh, and Jenny Orosel

CONTAGION

Posted in 2011, Apocalyptic Films, Cinema Knife Fights, Disaster Films, Disease!, Michael Arruda Reviews, Thrillers with tags , , , , , on September 12, 2011 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: CONTAGION (2011)
By Michael Arruda

(THE SCENE: A crowded restaurant. MICHAEL ARRUDA sits alone at a table as a waiter approaches with a food tray. The waiter places a plate of food in front of MA.)

MA: Thank you.

WAITER: You’re welcome. Aaa-choo!!! (He sneezes onto MA’s plate.)

MA (looks at camera): Now, that’s contagion!

WAITER: I’m so sorry. Let me get you another plate.

MA: Yes, well, when I ordered the pasta and clam sauce, that wasn’t the type of clam I had in mind.

(Waiter takes plate and scurries away, coughing and sneezing on everyone in his path.)

MA: Welcome, folks, to another edition of CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT. I’m dining solo tonight, as L.L. Soares is out and about on another assignment. Tonight I’m reviewing CONTAGION, the new thriller by acclaimed director Steven Soderbergh, and featuring an A-list cast that includes Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, and Gwyneth Paltrow.

Does all this talent add up to a great movie? Let’s find out!

If you’ve seen the preview, you know the plot, and then some. Yep, CONTAGION had one of those previews that pretty much showed the entire movie. Why see the movie when you’ve seen it all in the preview? I seriously wish someone out there would do something about movie previews that give everything away. It’s a disservice to movie audiences.

Anyway, CONTAGION begins with a woman Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow) returning home from a trip to Hong Kong. She’s sick with a cough, fever, and splitting headache. The next morning, she suffers a seizure, and her husband Mitch (Matt Damon) whisks her to the emergency room, where to his shock, she dies.

This same scenario plays out in other areas around the world, and suddenly the CDC (Center of Disease Control) is on the case, led by Dr. Ellis Cheever (Laurence Fishburne). He sends Dr. Erin Mears (Kate Winslet) to Chicago to investigate firsthand the case involving Beth Emhoff.

They discover that they are dealing with a new disease, and after some research, deduce that it most likely originated in Hong Kong. Dr. Leonara Orantes (Marion Cotillard) is dispatched to Hong Kong to learn more about the disease’s origins. Meanwhile, there’s a mad scramble to find a cure.

Journalist/blogger Alan Krumwiede (Jude Law) tells his readers that the real cure is a natural remedy called Forsythia, and that the government, CDC, and drug companies are ignoring this truth, keeping this cure from the public, so they can make money on their own new drug which they hope will treat the disease.

While the doctors search for a cure, ordinary people like Mitch Emhoff and his surviving daughter stay at home and hope for the best, while around them, the world begins to fall apart as looters take over, and law and order breaks down.

(Cue LAW AND ORDER theme music.)

MA (looks at camera with a puzzled expression) (Music stops.): That was weird.

The first word that comes to mind when I think of CONTAGION is restraint, and for a thriller, that’s not a good thing.

The movie gets off to a quick start. Things happen right away, as Gwyneth Paltrow’s Beth Emhoff gets sick right off the bat and dies within the first few minutes of the movie. From there, the film takes on an almost a newscast feel to it as we watch events unfold and follow multiple storylines as the doctors and scientists race to find a cure.

But the movie never hits a home run with this material. It moves along at a moderate pace and later, when things should be heating up, they don’t. For a film about a worldwide contagion, CONTAGION just isn’t that intense.

About the most intense thing in this movie is a neat scene early on (at least neat for horror fans) of an autopsy in which we hear the grotesque sound of the saw cutting into a skull and see a scalp peeled back. That’s about it for intensity.

There were certainly opportunities for intensity, but the film drops the ball with all of them. For example, when looters run rampant, and people are shooting and breaking into homes and stores, all of this tends to happen around Mitch Emhoff and his daughter, but none of it seems to directly impact them. I mean, nobody breaks into their home and holds them at gunpoint trying to steal food or medicine. I never really felt that they were in imminent danger. They seem to be safe inside their home the whole time. Ho hum.

By the end of the movie, this particular storyline had pretty much put me to sleep.

When Dr. Leonara Orantes (Marion Cotillard) goes to Hong Kong to investigate the disease’s origins, she is abducted and held for ransom, the ransom being the antidote. But is her life in danger here? Nope. In fact, she’s treated well.

And there are hardly any scenes of people dying, suffering, or panicking. This is a contagion!!! Why aren’t people going to pieces? They are, but the movie doesn’t really do a good job showing us this. CONTAGION is more interested in pointing out that we touch our faces an incredible amount of times per day, that it’s so easy to pass germs from just touching things like door handles, glasses, cups, etc., but don’t we already know this from dealing with flu season every year? At times, the movie plays like a public service announcement on how not to catch the flu. It certainly doesn’t play like a major theatrical thriller.

Another problem with CONTAGION is its multiple storylines. There are just too many characters. There really isn’t one strong main character to hold this film together, and the movie suffers for it. Sure, Laurence Fishburne’s Dr. Cheever is a nice guy, but nice guys can be boring, and as such, Cheever doesn’t carry this movie.

My favorite part of CONTAGION is the Jude Law storyline. His character, blogger Alan Krumwiede, is supposed to be shady, and I’m not sure we’re supposed to believe him. Trouble is, I found his arguments believable. When he talks about drug companies wanting to make money off the disease and purposely not telling the public about the homeopathic treatment Forsythia, it makes sense. In the real world, drug companies do often ignore natural remedies, and they do make tons of money off drugs that treat diseases rather than cure them.

With an A-list cast, it’s hard to find fault with the acting. As I just said, my favorite character was Alan Krumweide, and as such, I thought Jude Law delivered the best performance. But like Fishburne’s Dr. Cheever, he’s just one part of this movie and so, while he’s excellent, he doesn’t carry this movie.

I also really liked Marion Cotillard as Dr. Leonara Orantes. She’s fun to watch, and there’s an aura about her that makes it really difficult NOT to watch her. Cotillard, if you remember, was also excellent in INCEPTION (2010) as Leonardo DiCaprio’s wife, Mal.

Kate Winslet—coincidentally another DiCaprio love interest, in TITANIC (1997) —-is also very good as Dr. Erin Mears, and I wish she had been in the movie more. These three actors/characters probably fare the best.

Matt Damon is OK as Mitch Emhoff, the character audiences probably will most identify with, since he’s your everyday ordinary guy, but his best moments definitely come in the first half of the movie, especially early on when he’s dealing with the death of his wife. Later, his character and his storyline simply run out of gas.

(Behind MA gun shots ring out, and suddenly MATT DAMON is in hand to hand combat, kicking butt against several assassins. He makes short work of these guys, dusts himself off and waves at the camera.)

MA: Not that I want Damon to be typecast, but he’s certainly much more fun as Jason Bourne.

(WAITER reappears and sneezes on MATT DAMON, who promptly slugs the waiter in the face, sending him and his food tray crashing into a wall.)

MA: I guess I’ll get my food someday.

Gwyneth Paltrow is hardly in the movie, but I like Paltrow a lot, and so I did enjoy her brief screen time. Laurence Fishburne is also very likeable as Dr. Ellis Cheever, but he always seems to be outside the action. He’s always on the phone asking questions, getting information, and dishing out instructions. He never seems to get down and dirty.

Elliot Gould has a nice bit as Dr. Ian Sussman, and he has one of the better lines in the movie, when he confronts Jude Law’s Alan Krumwiede, attacking his credentials, saying, “Blogging is not writing. It’s graffiti with punctuation.”

Enrico Colantoni makes his mark playing the “heavy,” a government official named Dennis French, and Bryan Cranston is also memorable as Homeland Security Officer Lyle Haggerty.

So, you have all these fine actors displaying their talents, but it’s still not enough to save this movie, and that’s because there are too many of them, and no single player is allowed to carry this movie and take it to the next level.

Director Steven Soderbergh, [SEX, LIES, AND VIDEOTAPE (1989), ERIN BROCKOVICH (2000), and many others] crafts a film that succeeds in being entertaining for about two-thirds of the way through, before it simply runs out of steam. It does present a believable story—I buy that such an outbreak could happen—, and it does give us believable, likeable characters. Unfortunately, these likeable characters for the most part also happen to be boring. You’d like them helping you in a crisis, but you wouldn’t want to go out for a beer with them.

Scott Z. Burns wrote the screenplay, and while he succeeds in writing a believable tale with credible information regarding its threat, he doesn’t provide the whole package. What’s missing? The thrills!!! CONTAGION is boring! It’s about as thrilling as a PBS documentary on contagion. It’s interesting, no doubt about that, but it’s never on-the-edge-of-your-seat exciting.

CONTAGION simply lacks the necessary intensity to succeed as a thriller. I was never scared, never disturbed. I give it two knives.

(Waiter returns with a tray of food.)

MA: Well, it looks as if my dinner is finally going to arrive. (To waiter, who’s looking scary pale): Er, excuse me, but you don’t look so good.

WAITER: I feel terrible. I think I have a fever, I can’t swallow, I have a splitting headache, and—.

(WAITER passes out and lands face first into MA’s plate of food.)

MA (rolls eyes): I think I’ll just go pick up some fast food. Well, folks, thank you for joining me for another edition of CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT. L.L. will be back next week, and he and I will be reviewing another new movie. So long for now!

(MA exits the crowded restaurant, walking past the patrons and wait staff, all of them coughing and sneezing, and some of them collapsing onto the floor.)

—END—

© Copyright 2011 by Michael Arruda

Michael Arruda gives CONTAGION ~ two knives!